Habitat 500: From the Diary of Bea

Thirteen brave riders battled the elements to bike 500 miles with the hope to raise a total of $20,000 to benefit low-incomes families in Central Minnesota. The 7-day ride took bikers along the scenic North Shore.
This year, Bea Winkler participated for the first time in the ride, chronicling her journey along the way.
Day 1, July 10: Proctor to McGregor 70 miles
Due to the rainy weather, I didn’t get started on the road until a little later to avoid the heaviest rain. After riding in the rain this last spring on the Ironman, I invested in rain gear. Today I put it to use! It was so nice to have warm dry feet today!! And about half-way into the ride, the weather improved. We had a great ride–and a tailwind for most of it, too!

Day 2, July 11: McGregor to Grand Rapids 70 miles
Today started very early as a big storm was blowing in at 4:30 a.m. The people who were tenting were madly trying to break camp with rain flies billowing and blowing in the wind, and people scrambling around. … Only 15 minutes later, we were roused and advised to clear the gym we were in and move to interior rooms. Fortunately, someone got the coffee started early! … We hit the road in the light rain at 7 a.m.

Day 3, July 12: Grand Rapids to Hibbing 85 miles
It was a beautiful morning–sunny and clear. We got off to a good start on the road, but I was having trouble keeping up with my riding partner, Bobby, with whom I’ve been training and riding for the last several months. I thought I just had “dead legs” from the last 2 days of riding, and was struggling to get up a hill that really shouldn’t have been that tough. Duh–I had a flat tire! So we stopped by the side of the road and Bobby changed it.
Despite having good roads today (yesterday’s roads were pretty bumpy), we had a hard time not bringing up the rear all day!
Our next challenge came shortly after we started on the Mesabi Trail, a 120 mile long mostly paved trail that winds through the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. It is partially built on old railroad beds and old logging and mining roads.
After ascending a very steep incline that had me in my lowest possible gear, and riding a mile or so, we found the trail blocked by a train! It was not moving until it did pull forward several car lengths, only to reverse again. We called the mobile emergency number for the ride for advice and were sent back to the road—yup, down the steep hill! We were planning out an alternate route when the ride support vehicle at the road told us the train had moved and sent us back up the hill! Somehow, it seemed easier to climb the second time.

Day 4, July 13: Hibbing – Century Ride 100 miles
We had fantastic tailwinds for about half of the ride. Came upon some fellow riders having trouble, so stopped to lend a hand. … We had quite a headwind for a good stretch and finished with a strong crosswind. The last thing we passed was “the build”–the house that is being worked on by some of the riders who chose not to ride the century. On the way back to the High School (which is on the National Register of historic buildings), the skies opened, and we got drenched one more time!
Tonight was the dedication of the Bike House. We met the family who will be buying the house from Habitat, and each family member was given a bike and helmet. The bikes have been donated and reconditioned. I saw some tears. Everyone deserves a home!! This organization does amazing work for people who are willing to work for what they want (sweat equity working on the build) and who will make payments on a 0% mortgage provided by Habitat.”

Day 5, July 14: Hibbing to Aurora 70 miles
Back on the road by 7 a.m. All went well until about 15 miles out when I started falling behind again. I called out for Bobby to stop, caught up and saw that I had a flat tire—again! … Then it was back to the road and the task at hand: getting to Aurora. We got onto the Mesabi trail, again winding, and hilly with beautiful scenery. As we entered each small town along the way, we rode under an archway that welcomed us and named the town we were entering: Buhl, Mountain Iron, Iron Junction, Eveleth, Biwabik, and Aurora. Somewhere along the way, I had another flat that Bobby fixed, making three flats for me so far this week.

Day 6, July 15: Aurora to Two Harbors 62 miles
Today the ride gets shorter—no more trail—all on the road. We decided to keep it short at the rest stops and get done in time to claim wall space in the gym and have lunch out with a beverage on the town. Not much to report on the ride—it was a beautiful day and no flats!!
Once we arrived in Two Harbors, we claimed our bags and had nailed down a good spot in the gym by noon! Rather than add our bikes to the many lining the hallway, we quickly changed clothes and biked into town—downhill all the way. Lunch was delicious, as were the drinks! We did a little sightseeing along the lake shore. Saw the old lighthouse, a long pier out into the water opposite the loading docks for the ore boats, took a little tour of the town and to a new bike shop and coffee house just opened, then back to the high school to clean up before dinner and a party for Habitat at Castle Danger brewery.img_1753

Day 7, July 16: Two Harbors to Proctor 51 miles
It’s hard to believe that this is our last day of the Habitat 500 ride! … it’s a short ride today—however there is quite a steep rise from the lake shore to the bluff above Duluth to come!! Fortunately, the first part of the ride is along the old road along the north shore—very scenic and tranquil.
It was great to come around a curve and see the Duluth shoreline and the lift bridge way off in the distance—first photo op of the day! Not much further down the road, we began our ascent from lake level (590 ft. above sea level) up the side of the shore via Seven Bridges Road, taking us up about 400 vertical feet to 1000 ft. above sea level in about 2.5 miles. It is a very scenic route, and follows a winding creek, crossing it via seven bridges built in the WPA days. Of course, by now, I have been riding for 6.5 days and actually already have about 500 miles under my belt due to riding “extra miles” with Bobby. My legs are showing the fatigue—I’m easily averaging one gear lower overall than I would have been on day 1. This road does not just climb—it climbs steeply, punishing all those muscle fibers and pushing me into ever lower gears. Then out of some twisted, sadistic road engineering spite, I find I am riding downhill before the road turns and heads uphill again—in another steep climb. Sadly, due to not wanting to lose momentum, I don’t stop to enjoy the beauty of the scenery, the bubbling water moving down to Lake Superior, or to admire the craftsmanship of the bridges until I am completely drained, stopping because I can’t go on and need a break. Looking back, I should have stopped at each one! Ultimately, I had to get off my bike and walk two of the last hills, as I was out of gears, out of steam, and yet determined to finish the week entirely without using the SAG services. Today, miles 23 to 33 took us from 590 to 1450 feet above sea level, a long climb back up to the Iron Range. The roads were straight after that, and the ride back to Proctor relatively uneventful. … When we arrived at the school in Proctor—our starting point a week ago, we were greeted by people cheering and ringing bells, a smorgasbord of snacks, our bags out on the sidewalk. We loaded the bikes on the car, took showers in the locker rooms and enjoyed the wrapping up of the Habitat 500 Ride before heading home. My total miles for the week was 526 miles, give or take a couple.

The group of 13 riders exceeded their goal, raising just over $20,000 which will go towards Jessy’s house. It’s not too late to add to the total. If you want to donate or are interested in riding in the 2017 event, please contact Kris Lehman at klehman@cmhfh.org. The 2017 Habitat 500 dates have been set for July 9-15.